Necessity was the mother of invention for Giesen Winemaker Duncan Shouler, who said a company health challenge was the driving factor for the creation of Giesen 0%, the New Zealand winery’s take on dealcoholized wine.
The 0% portfolio is now a permanent fixture in Giesen’s repertoire and is now widely distributed in the United States and worldwide, but Shouler, who recently hosted a webinar for NA-curious members of the media, said the idea was born when he and his team couldn’t drink wine for a month and decided to give drinking alcohol-free wine a try.
“There was nothing good out there, so we tried to make one,” Shouler recalled. “We started with Sauvignon Blanc, and got feedback from other members of our staff, who thought it was a great product. The rest, as we say, is history.”
The recap sounds succinct, but the company has devoted serious capital to growing their NA lineup, including putting $2 million into its own spinning cone steam distillation setup, hiring a team of spinning cone specialists to operate it, and working them around the clock in shifts.
Shouler said there were a few basic things to remember when making a dealcoholized wine.
The Same Initial Process
It’s not just a bottle of grape juice, Shouler said. Giesen goes through all of the regular steps that it does when it’s making its full Sauvignon Blanc, with additional steps to remove the alcohol.
“The key difference between this and grape juice is the base product is wine,” Shouler said. “A lot of the character happens during the fermentation process. With our Sauvignon Blanc, we ferment it in stainless steel tanks and then remove the alcohol.
“We go through all of the regular steps to make what we believe is a great Sauvignon Blanc.”
Grapes Still Matter
Sourcing the grapes is a key part of the process.
“Just like any wine, the most important thing is the quality of the grapes,” Shouler said. “It’s difficult to make great wine with grapes that aren’t. We’re (using grapes grown) for full-strength-alcohol wines. When you remove the alcohol, some of the sweetness is taken away and you have to balance the acidity. You can do that by adding sugar, so you look for vineyards with lower natural acidity.”
Don’t Rush It
The aim, Shouler said, is to use the cone to delicately capture the aroma of a wine that has made it through the fermentation process, set it aside, and then use that same cone to dealcoholize the base wine before putting the essence extracted earlier back into it.
The process requires a team of experts and round the clock care, he said, because steam distillation at low temperatures was the key to success.
“Using a vacuum and a large surface area means we can distill alcohol at very low temperatures,” Shouler said. “It’s very key to preserving aroma and you’re trying to avoid the jammy cooked characteristics you get at high temps.”
The slower you do it, the more delicate of a wine you make, Shouler said.
“We do our first run at 97 degrees and take it at a very slow speed to capture all of the aroma, and put the essence aside. Once we do that, we can dial up the temperature of the spinning cone because now we have a wine with no flavor or aroma, so we can remove the rest of the alcohol. We put it back into the base wine to give it the flavor and characteristics of the region.”
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